- The signs of thyroid problems can be unclear and confusing.
- There are two types of thyroid problems: hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism.
- Hypothyroidism signs and symptoms may include fatigue, weight gain, cold intolerance, muscle weakness, joint pain, dry skin and hair, slowed heart rate, and hoarseness.
- Hyperthyroidism signs and symptoms may include weight loss, anxiety, irritability, rapid heartbeat, heat intolerance, and changes in menstrual patterns.
According to the American Thyroid Association (ATA), an estimated 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease. (1)
Your thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in your neck, just above your collarbone. It is one of your endocrine glands which make hormones. The thyroid’s job is to make thyroid hormone, which is secreted into the blood and then carried to every tissue in the body. Thyroid hormone helps the body use energy, stay warm, and keep the brain, heart, muscles, and other organs working as they should.
An imbalance in thyroid hormone levels can cause a variety of health problems. If your thyroid gland makes too much thyroid hormone, you may have hyperthyroidism. If it makes too little, you may have hypothyroidism.
There are many different causes of thyroid problems, and not all of them are fully understood. However, some risk factors have been identified. These include having a family history of thyroid disease, being female (thyroid problems are more common in women than men), and having certain other medical conditions such as type 1 diabetes or an autoimmune disease.
If you think you may have a thyroid problem, it’s important to see your doctor for a diagnosis.
Here are 15 signs that you may have a thyroid problem.
One of the most common and easily overlooked signs of a thyroid problem is fatigue. If you’re constantly tired, even after a full night’s sleep, it could be a sign that your thyroid isn’t working properly. Fatigue caused by a thyroid problem is different from the type of fatigue you might feel after an especially busy week or lack of sleep. When it’s caused by a thyroid problem, fatigue doesn’t go away with rest or sleep and can persist for weeks or longer. (2)
2. Weight Gain
Gaining weight is another common sign of a thyroid problem. If you’ve been eating healthy and exercising regularly but still notice weight gain, it could be due to hypothyroidism. This happens because when your body doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone, it can slow down your metabolism and make it harder for you to lose weight—despite diet and exercise.
According to the American Thyroid Association (ATA), hypothyroidism can contribute to 5-10 pounds of body weight in most people, depending on the severity. (3)
3. Unintentional weight loss
Unintentional weight loss is another indication of thyroid problems. Hyperthyroidism, or an overactive thyroid, can speed up your metabolism and cause you to lose weight unexpectedly. If you’ve lost a significant amount of weight without making any changes to your diet or exercise routine, it’s worth talking to your doctor.
4. Increased sensitivity to cold
Cold sensitivity is a well-known sign of hypothyroidism. People with an underactive thyroid may feel cold all the time, even when others are comfortable. They may also have chills and feel especially cold in their extremities, such as their hands and feet.
This sensation of coldness may be felt even when it’s hot or during the summer. Thyroid hormones help regulate the body’s metabolism, and an underactive thyroid can lead to a slower metabolism. A slower metabolism can make it harder to generate heat and make a person feel cold all the time.
5. Slowed Heart Rate
Everyone’s body has a natural resting heart rate. The number of times your heart beats per minute when you’re not active. A healthy adult has a resting heart rate of 60 to 100 beats per minute.
If you have an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism), your resting heart rate tends to be slower than normal. This happens because your thyroid is not making enough thyroid hormone to keep your body running at its best. A heart rate that’s consistently below 60 beats per minute is one of the most typical early signs of thyroid problems.
6. Increased heart rate
An overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism), on the other hand, can cause your heart rate to be higher than normal. A heart rate that exceeds 100 beats per minute is considered tachycardia. Tachycardia can cause shortness of breath, chest pain, and lightheadedness.
7. Trouble sleeping
Thyroid problems can also affect your sleep patterns. Hyperthyroidism may cause insomnia, while hypothyroidism may lead to excessive sleepiness.
8. Dry Skin
Hypothyroidism is typically characterized by dry, itchy skin. This is caused by a decrease in the production of natural oils and moisture-retaining substances. People with hypothyroidism may also notice that their skin feels unusually thick, rough, and/or scaly. According to research, 50% of people with hypothyroidism experience some sort of skin problem. (4)
9. Hoarse voice
Thyroid problems can cause changes in your voice. The hormone receptors found in the larynx, or voice box, are very responsive to changes in thyroid hormone levels. An overactive thyroid can cause the vocal cords to vibrate more rapidly, leading to a higher pitch and a scratchy or husky quality of your voice. An underactive thyroid can have the opposite effect and make your voice sound more muffled and slow. (5)
Also, goiter, which is an enlarged thyroid gland, can put pressure on the nerves and muscles in your throat, causing hoarseness.
10. Difficulty swallowing
A goiter, or an enlarged thyroid gland, can press against the esophagus and make it difficult to swallow. This may cause pain or a burning sensation when you eat or drink. If you have any trouble swallowing, it’s important to see your doctor right away.
11. Muscle weakness
Muscle weakness is a common symptom of hypothyroidism. The weakness can be so severe that everyday activities such as climbing stairs or carrying groceries become very difficult. The thyroid hormone is responsible for maintaining muscle strength and function. When the thyroid isn’t producing enough hormone, muscles throughout the body may begin to weaken. Studies have found that myalgia (muscle aches and pain) affects almost 80 percent of patients with hypothyroidism (6)
12. Pain in the joints
Hypothyroidism can also cause joint pain. The pain is often described as achy and may be worse in the morning. The joints may also feel stiff, especially after sitting or lying down for a long period of time.
13. Menstrual changes
Thyroid problems can cause changes in your menstrual cycle. Hypothyroidism may lead to heavier and longer periods, while hyperthyroidism may cause lighter and more frequent periods. According to some research, 8-12% of women with a healthy thyroid gland have irregular periods, whereas 23-68% of women with hypothyroidism have irregular periods (7)
In some cases, thyroid problems can also cause menopause to occur earlier than usual. (8)
14. Brain Fog
Thyroid hormones are known to play an important role in cognitive function and memory. People with thyroid problems often report feeling forgetful, confused, and unable to concentrate. If you find yourself feeling “foggy” or having trouble focusing, it could be a sign that your thyroid isn’t functioning properly. Clinical trials and functional brain imaging studies have shown that severe hypothyroidism is linked to cognitive deterioration, which can be reversed with treatment. (9)
15. Swelling in the neck
A swelling or enlargement, also known as a goiter in the neck, can be a sign of thyroid problems. If you have a goiter, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have thyroid disease, but it’s something you should have checked out by a doctor. (10)
Do you experience any of these symptoms?
If you have any of these symptoms, it’s important to see your doctor so that they can run some tests and determine if you have a thyroid problem. With proper treatment, most thyroid problems can be managed effectively.